During the 2006 Sport/Utility of the Year contest, we had 12 entries, six of which were truck-based SUVs, including the Ford Explorer, Hummer H3, and Nissan Xterra. We dubbed that field "The Dirty Dozen," as half the competitors, and certainly the winning Xterra, were legitimate off-roaders. One year later, the field swelled to 22 entries, nine of which were truck-based. In other words, a majority (13) had switched to car-based roots. Naturally, we said of 2007, "This year, everything changed..."
In both 2008 ("This year, the crossover takes a stand") and 2009 ("Rise of the machines"), we had a total of 24 SUOTY contestants, of which all but four-Toyota Land Cruiser, Kia Borrego, Lexus LX 570, and Toyota Sequoia-were car-based. Not surprising, just 12 months later, when the Subaru Outback won our 2010 Sport/Utility of the Year award out of a field of 11 SUVs, we observed that the crossover was once again dominating the sport/utility scene. Indeed, the Toyota 4Runner was the only non-crossover in 2010's assemblage. And since 2006, every winner but the Xterra has been car-based.
Will the crossover continue its proliferation and preeminence for 2011? Based on this year's 15 contenders, of which 13 are crossovers, it appears likely. The only two truck-based SUVs are the all-new Infiniti QX and Lexus GX. But don't discount those leather-lined V-8-powered brutes. Each is loaded with the latest technologies and luxuries, and both are at home in the concrete jungle.
Of the 13 crossovers in this year's field, seven offer (or will offer) a four-cylinder engine. Last year, that number was just three. In an attempt to deliver more fuel-efficient rigs-and ultimately to achieve upcoming CAFE numbers-automakers are downsizing vehicles and engines, and in some cases adding turbochargers to deliver horsepower comparable to that of a larger mill. Case in point: the 162.4-inch-long Nissan Juke (for context, a Civic coupe measures 175.5), whose tiny, 1.6-liter turbo I-4 generates a stout 188 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, yet sips gas at a rate of 27 mpg city/32 highway (FWD). Next year's Mini Countryman, also with a 1.6 turbo, will follow the Juke's lead down Compact Street. The updated Ford Edge and seven-seat Ford Explorer, as well as the next-generation 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe, all sizeable midsize sport/utilities, will be available with a 2.0-liter turbo I-4 in calendar year 2011. This downsizing trend isn't applicable just to four cylinders replacing six. The 2011 Audi Q7, for instance, dropped its 4.2-liter V-8 option in favor of a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6. In the coming years, expect the shift to smaller engines-and such smaller SUVs as the Juke and Outlander Sport-to be on the rise.